Read through archived FRONTLINE/World
conversations around this story below, including responses
from the reporters.
Ben Richey - St. Louis, Missouri
I thoroughly enjoyed the
FRONTLINE/World series, and especially the Hole In The Wall
segment. As someone who wrote an undergraduate thesis on
the Digital Divide, it nearly brought me to tears to see
children with no prior technology experience accessing the
Internet for the first time and learning it for themselves,
from experience. It renews my enthusiasm and belief that
access to information can improve people's lives. Thank
you again for producing exceptional programming.
Kristi Dolera - Flint, Michigan
How nice to see an UPLIFTING, POSITIVE program! (I smiled
a lot throughout this piece...) With all the anxiety and
conflict going on in the world right now, it's good to have
a respite from that, if only for a few minutes. This piece
was a ray of sunshine in my otherwise stressed-out day.
Just another reason to love PBS! Thank you so much.
Saleem Ceepee - Jeddah, Saudi
No doubt this is a very laudable project - bringing technology
to the streets, especially to hapless children.
What prevents the spread of such
ambitious projects is the cost which is a major problem.
Who will foot the bill for spreading technology to the poor
in a country where a majority is starving, living without
power, struggling to get potable water, have a decent roof
over his head, etc. Definitely we can enlighten more and
more children if we have the means to spread the 'technology
magic' to the nooks and corners of village India.
Reporter Rory O'Connor Responds:
Thanks for your email regarding The Hole in the Wall project.
It is true that spreading information technology costs
money. Sugata Mitra, head of the project, has estimated
that it would take two billion dollars to install 100,000
such public computers all over India. But he also estimates
that the result would be 100 million computer-literate
young Indians within five years. And it would cost three
times as much --six billion dollars -- to train teachers
to teach those children how to become computer literate.
So, while costly, The Hole in the
Wall approach is three times cheaper than any comparable
method of creating computer literacy. And the eventual
savings for India as a whole would probably far exceed
the initial investment. As Dr. Mitra notes in my feature-length
documentary film on this topic, "There are two types of
poverty -- material poverty and information poverty. The
world has spent much of much of the past fifty years trying
to solve the problem of material poverty, with little
success. But perhaps if we address the problem of information
poverty first, poor people might be bale to solve the
problem of material poverty on their own."
The following conversation took
place in response to the first broadcast and launch of "Hole
in the Wall" in October 2002.
Katie Hinnenkamp - Santa Cruz, California
A fascinating story. While I agree that an experiment like
this is not in itself a long-term solution, it is certainly
a wonderfully unexpected, if slight, narrowing of the digital
San Jose, California
Congratulations to Dr Mitra. This is one of the most wonderful
uses of technology, resources and will power that I have
seen. The importance of this experiment lies more in the
fact that it has been successful in a third world country,
where food is more important than a place to sleep. This
experiment is not only delving into the diminishing the
so called "Digital Divide", it captures the young impressionable
mind. Exposure to internet or what even it looks like is
good enough to blossom into thirst to learn more. And even
if a few kids from these surrounding get going on this front,
they might help a whole family cross the poverty line.
Just seeing the joy of discovery on the faces of the children
shows Sugata Mitra's experiment to be a success in my eyes.
How can such excitement about learning be anything but positive
for these young cybernauts? Information is power, and access
to information can only help to expand the dreams and aspirations
of these wonderful young explorers.
I loved this story, and the kids. Exploring is the best,
most fun way to learn. I've been a programmer for 35 years
and still get a kick out of learning new things on the computer
by guesswork and trial & error instead of boring directions.
Robert Taylor, MD - Boston, Massachusetts
Sugata Mitra is a hero. He dares to try a simple yet innovative
trial and he changes lives. What more can a person do that
is important? Continue your good work Sugata! You are terrific.
Toms River, New Jersey
The story is inspiring. I don't believe that the internet
will solve every problem in society but it will give many
people of the world information with which to better themselves.
Information is the key to leveling society and helping those
poor countries find better ways to help themselves.
Katell Zappa - Boston, Massachusetts
Thank you for bringing us this story. I think it shows the
kind of change that one person can bring to his community,
and there is no better place to make change than with children.
Since we usually take our access to technology for granted,
it is good to be reminded that browsing the Internet is
a new discovery for these kids.
First off, the program, idea and the children in particular,
were very sweet. Children are curious, smart and will figure
out novel ways to solve problems. I really enjoyed the show.
On the other hand, I agree with an earlier viewer that this
is not a realistic solution to the digital divide. NIIT's
(Mitra's employer) prime motive (especially during the heady
1990s) is to charge people an arm and a leg to train them
primarily so they can immigrate to the US. Middle and low-income
students can never enroll in their classes. If Mitra were
really interested in the promotion of computer literacy
for less fortunate children, he would donate computers to
schools and rather than experiment with holes in walls,
he would set up proper computer centers where children would
learn and practice in a more formal environment.
Reporter Rory O'Connor responds:
I assure you that Sugata Mitra is sincerely interested
in the promotion of computer literacy for less fortunate
children -- hence his pioneering work with The Hole in
the Wall. And far from benefiting financially, the firm
that employs him, NIIT, has already supported his work
financially over the past couple of years, both by paying
his salary to work on the project part of the time, and
by paying for the installation of the first three experimental
computers. Subsequent project support, all stimulated
by NIIT's initial efforts and finances, has come from
the Government of New Delhi, the ICICI Bank, and the World
Bank. By the end of next year, there will be more than
100 free public computers in locations all over India
for children to use freely.
Regarding your concept of 'proper
computer centers' where children would learn in a 'more
formal environment': such an approach would be anathema
to Mitra, since it flies in the face of his entire theory
of 'minimally invasive education. He estimates that if
he could make 100,000 public computers freely available,
100 million Indian children could teach themselves the
rudiments of computer literacy within five years.
Terry Pratt - Seattle, Washington
Its true this approach may not save the world or even these
children, but I saw some 3rd world, poverty stricken kids
smile because of it. A smile is always a start.
Calgary, Alberta, Canada
This was absolutely delightful. Bridging the gap will have
untold effects. It will undoubtedly assist in global realization,
but the question lies in how the world reacts.
Raleigh, North Carolina
Mitra does not claim to have the answer to poverty, but
his initiative is generous, audacious and does widen infinitely
the horizons of these Indian children. He has to be praised
for that. Actually, the Hole in the Wall is a smart start
: we should have more initiators of info delivery to the
poor people. Used at its best this can help them to help
themselves. A great and touching broadcast. Thank you for
showing the bright side of the humanity. Mitra exemplifies
it in an outstanding manner.
Robert Onzo - Daphne, Alabamba
I just watched this story tonight. I feel extremely moved
and encourage by the experiment. I have always believed
in the inherent intelligence and desire for enlightenment
in mankind and the experiment shows that the environment
is so much more influential on a persons journey through
life than his gene's. Why? Because we all have the capabilities,
but only select individuals have the environmental stimulus
to fully realize their capabilities. Discovering an hourglass
on a screen is a form of proof towards environmental enlightenment.
The same as solving a quantum theory is to a physics major.
It is all relative to the experiences of the individual.
Those children discovered an hour glass today, which may
lead to an increased curiosity tomorrow and thus, the capability
of a profound discovery some time in there future and who
really wins in that scenario? We all do. I certainly did
tonight and I thank you for the story and I thank that Dr./business
leader for his insight...
This story made my day. Those children have bright, intelligent,
eyes. I get the impression they are not the poorest of the
poor. I was surprised at how many of these children appeared
to have a command of written English (All of the displayed
web sites appeared to be in English).
Powerful! Mitra has shown children they can learn, whatever
their station in life. He has given them entry to a treasure
trove of resources; as they use those resources, they will
not only want more learning, they'll learn ways to get it.
Perhaps even more important, he has helped them feel connected
to the rest of the world.
I also found this story inspiring. As a former teacher,
I was most struck by the kids absolute fascination with
the sheer enjoyment of learning and discovery. The look
in their eyes! Their excitement and wonder over world news,
lesson plans, and geography is something teachers strive
and often fail to simulate in the traditional classroom.
A part of me agrees that "kids can't teach themselves"--the
right structure could challenge these kids in ways perhaps
recreational surfing alone will not. In addition, I can't
help but ask: who regulates what sites these kids visit?
Who is there to explain extremist propaganda sites, and
warn kids away from pornography?
I believe there is power in the lesson of learning for
learning's sake, which is exactly what I see these kids
doing. I have some concerns, but the beauty of this experiment
is that (I hope) it represents only the beginning of the
battle to narrow the digital gulf that divides.
Reporter Rory O'Connor responds:
Thank you for your warm and enthusiastic response. Many
of the points that you make are explored in more depth
in the feature-length 82 minute documentary film The Hole
in the Wall, available online at www.globalvision.org.
Regarding your specific questions
about regulation and pornography, here is what Sugata
Mitra says in the film on these points: "When we started
the experiment, there was a lot of fear about what the
children should or should not access. I personally believe
that there is no such thing. I mean, the Internet is actually
open for anybody to access. There is this fear of pedophilia
and pornography - that kind of thing. However, we're on
safe ground here because the target group we're looking
at is eight to thirteen year olds, and this problem is
not and has not surfaced at all in any of the places that
we are working in. However, if the kiosks are not pointing
toward a public space, they tend to be used by adults
for these purposes. So once again I think that we have
a misconception there. The adult fear that children will
go to such web sites is probably founded on the fact that
if they had the chance to, the adults, they would do it
for that....We are not putting any filters at all on Internet
access for two reasons. One is that filters don't work
- they can always find a way around them. The other is
that a filter actually acts as an incentive to a child
to break it and to see what it is that you are trying
to filter out. However, if you leave it open, they quickly
get really bored with a subject which is, in effect, intrinsically
Darshan Kulkarni - Philadelphia,
Having lived in India for most of my life and having realized
the lack of opportunities for these children, and how this
lack of opportunities results in these apathy on the part
of the children if not harnessed, I am very happy to realize
that someone has taken this opportunity to seize the attention
of these children. I wonder if there is anyway to join the
effort and potentially help.
Jason Hamilton - Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
I just watched the show and I liked that fact that I can
see how other people on this planet are using the internet
as a tool of learning and bringing us closer. Closing the
digital divide starts small of course but I think the idea
of the hole in the wall is great starting tool. I hope it
will enlighten the children of India to use technology to
better their society.
James Veillon - New Orleans,
"The Hole In The Wall" internet
connected computer gives these children access to revolutionary
learning experiences that they could not get otherwise.
Besides being exposed to fundamental
computer information technology that is essential to their
economic futures, they also enjoy a liberal exploration
into a new world of unbound self guided knowledge, ideas,
What a wonderful thing! Children who otherwise might not
ever lay their hands on a computer throughout their entire
lives, being given the opportunity to use one. There is
no way this can be a bad thing. The joy in their faces as
they learned to make it work and see things they may have
never seen was a sight to behold. The DR. is a modern day
St. Nick. No, it may not close the so-called 'digital divide'
but it might inspire the people who use it to a yearning
for more education for themselves. And frankly I see no
harm in that. There are places here in the USA that would
benefit from a few 'Hole in the Wall' computers.
Bowling Green, Ohio
I have lived in countries in Europe and Africa and Asia
that had many areas with abject poverty. Dr. Mitra's idea
of approaching the "digital divide" through the children
of poverty touched my heart deaply. It is sometimes the
smallest of ideas that make changes in this large world.
I'm glad there are children in large and small towns in
India who are finding benefit from this approach. Can't
we do the same in America? Yes, America, there are places
in towns and rural areas that could use this same assistance!
Scott Lyles - Grand Junction, Colorado
This is more along the lines of a question, but I'm sure
others who saw the program are thinking, How can we connect
with these people, and possibly assist them? The need in
India is so great...Who do we get in touch with?
Reporter Rory O'Connor responds:
There are many good Internet links posted on the Frontline
World site, which should prove useful to your quest. Please
go to www.pbs.org/frontlineworld and click on "The Hole
in the Wall" to begin exploring.
If you want to speak with Sugata
Mitra. the originator of the project, he can be reached
through NIIT in India, SugataM@niit.com .
This is a novel idea and inspiring story. I don't know whether
it will translate to solving the digital divide, but I find
Mitra's dedication to be contagious. It is nice to see some
innovation. And I hope that these "slum kids" will be better
off for having found the hole in the wall. I also hope their
skills will migrate upward, perhaps even to their parents.
San Francisco, California
I think this effort is misguided. Kids cannot teach themselves.
I realize they may pick up some literacy skills, but does
this really translate to economic opportunity? Secondly,
the notion of technology as the come-one-come-all answer
to economic development and abject poverty is very 1999.
I would like to see a story that addresses the broader,
complicated factors that affect a country like India, leaving
it with such a bifurcated population of lower and upper
class. A company putting computers in a wall isn't the answer.
New York, New York Responds:
Perhaps this experiment is short sighted in that there
is not a substantive groundwork set for a flourishing
middle class, in India, however I would be loath to label
this experiment misguided. The underlying problems bifurcating
this society will take generations to supplant, generations
where in a working class will grow to take democratic
action and establish their economic sway in the market
place. Technology, being the prime mover in the global
economy today, is the obvious route this society will
take from a more-or-less old world economy to a new world
economy. If this experiment elucidates any point it is
that there is no cognitive separation between the classes
or the sexes -that knowledge like the power to earn money
is a matter of access... Access and exposure is exactly
what this experiment is creating. I cannot applaud this
effort more enthusiastically. It's simplicity, and thereby
its power to subvert Feudal and fundamentalist dogmas
is elegant genius.
Further more, one should not be
too hasty as to underestimate the innate cognitive abilities
of humans, especially children. The child's ability, to
extrapolate cause and effect from any set of stimuli is
the very seat of all human knowledge. Before there was
the teacher (in human guise) there was the lesson -there
was in fact the experiment.